HAL Cancels Molokai Calls

Line to hold meeting with islanders to discuss impact of cruise-vessel visits

By: Michele Kayal

Holland America Line has canceled controversial calls to the tiny Hawaiian island of Molokai, planned for later this year, until it can hold meetings with the island’s community and resolve the issue.

While cruise-ship protests do erupt sporadically, often in quiet, environmentally sensitive ports, it is unusual for scheduled calls to be cancelled outright.

The move came in response to a request from the heads of the state House and Senate transportation committees to call off the plans, until cruise representatives present their case to the deeply-divided local community.

“A number of issues have been raised in the community, about cruise ship visits to the island in general,” said David Giersdorf, Holland America’s senior vice president of marketing and sales, noting that the company had won a court battle earlier this month, allowing it to make the calls. “Canceling these calls will certainly be a disappointment to our guests, as well as to many on Molokai.”

The House Transportation committee chairman, Joseph Souki, said that Princess Cruises also had notified him about canceling its intended stop. Princess executives could not be reached for comment.

Holland America’s Statendam was scheduled to call in April and November; the line’s Amsterdam was also scheduled to call in April. Princess was scheduled to call in December.

Opponents of the port calls say they fear the ships will damage Molokai’s delicate reef environment and disrupt its rural way of life, since the island population increases by as much as 15 percent on cruise call days. But supporters say the ships are necessary to aid a community, whose unemployment rate is the highest in the state.

“That’s good but it’s not over,” said Walter Ritte Jr., organizer of a group called Hui Ho’opakele ‘Aina, or “rescue the land,” which in the past has mobilized a reported 100 or more protesters when ships were scheduled to arrive. “They’re trying to get a community meeting, which is what they should have done in the beginning.”

A December call was thwarted when high seas kept the tenders from getting to shore, and a January call was canceled when the Statendam diverted its course to rescue three men aboard a sinking yacht in the middle of the Pacific.

Many residents were counting on the ships to provide an economic boost to Molokai. The Molokai Visitors Association estimated each call would bring $131,000 to the island.

“I’m disappointed that they canceled them. Obviously it would have been a great boost to the economy,” said association director Sandy Beddow.

“I’m sorry it couldn’t be done ahead of time, but I guess better late than never.”

Some merchants and vendors said they find themselves saddled with costs they incurred to prepare for the ships’ arrivals.

“For now it’s ‘ouch,’ ” said Pat Puaa, manager and owner, with her husband, of Molokai Off-Road Tours and Taxi, which increased its insurance coverage to provide shuttles and tours for passengers. “But we’ll be waiting. We want the whole island to be for this before going into it. And if they can settle their issues, then fine. We’ll be ready.”

A Maui Circuit Court earlier this month denied the hui’s request for a preliminary injunction to stop the ships from coming.

The group still has a lawsuit pending, and its attorney, Isaac Moriwake at Earthjustice, said that they would now ask the judge to rule on the case.